Saturday, September 17, 2011

Clara West (Mrs. Fred West), Child Care Provider Accused of Murder - Iowa, 1907

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 5): Des Moines, June 4. – It is a strange web which has been woven about the lives of Mrs. Fred West, proprietress of a baby farm and Miss Anna Beattie, her head nurse, who are on trial in the Polk county court for the murder Baby Jim. There is no such baby and never has been, is the defense. But if the prosecution presses the point too hard the attorneys for the accused women intend to produce a boy and claim it is the one reported killed. The Iowa Humane Society through its State secretary Mrs. Elizabeth Baird caused the prosecution.

~  Babies in Furnace ~

“Babies have been burned at the West baby farm before they were dead --  thrown into the furnace to end their helpless cries” – is a charge which Miss Flora Goble, the chief witness for the prosecution and a former nurse at the home makes. In a sworn affidavit she declares she saw Miss Beattie give ten drops of laudanum to Baby Jim under the direction of Mrs. West.

“Mrs. West asked me to give the laudanum to the baby and brought me poison bottle,” said she. I refused. Mrs. West told me not to be foolish – that it was the they always the babies gave any trouble they them out of misery as fast as possible.”

~ Babies for Playthings ~

That there has been traffic in babies is admitted. The Infants wore bought and sold and when this was impossible, given away. Inmates of disorderly houses [bordellos], it is said bought the babies using them as one would a poodle to play with. Only girl babies were wanted by these women but they were to pay good prices. Mrs. Baird claims also to have discovered that the baby farm proprietors were running their own graveyards without legal formality.

Baby Jim is alleged to have been adopted by a family who wanted a baby to get a fortune, but he became afflicted with an eye disease and was exchanged for another. Then he disappeared. Miss Goble declares that Mrs. West ordered him put out of his misery with laudanum. Mrs. West denies this and says she will produce Baby Jim.

[“Babies Instead of Dogs Said to Be Sold in Iowa – Woman Charged With Killing Unsalable Child – Accused of Throwing Noisy Infants Into Furnace.” The Washington Times (D.C.), Jun. 4, 1907, p. 4]

Shown are two classified ads placed by Mrs. Fred West in the Des Moines Register (Iowa):

FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 5):

HOME for unfortunate girls; babies adopted; strictly first class work furnished if needed. Mrs. Fred West, 1314, 35th.

TWELVE nice babies for adoption, inquire Mrs. Fred West, 1314, 35th.

[Classified ad section, Des Moines Register (Io.), Jan. 25, 1905, p. 7]


NOTE: The investigation of Mrs. West for murder stemmed from an earlier case in which Mrs. West was implicated involving a paternity fraud charge against a Mrs. Ansley.


Article 3 of 5:

PHOTO CAPTION: Mrs. F. S. Ansley and the child which figures so conspicuously in the Ansley divorce suit. This remarkable flash-light was taken at the home of Mrs. Fred West, proprietress of the lying-in hospital or “baby farm” last night. It shows the mother with the babe, which she says is the offspring of Ansley, in her arms. This is the child which Ansley says was secured from the “farm” and offered in court as his own. He denies that it is child or that the woman was even a mother.

FULL TEXT: Who is the, father of the strange little waif that figures so mysteriously in the Ansley divorce case.

Judge, attorneys, witnesses and spectators who have listened to the weird stories told in support of the aliened mother’s claim and those told to substantiate the father’s assertion that he is the victim of a designing woman and the proprietress of a “baby farm” are as far from unraveling the mystery as they were yesterday — the week before and, in fact, slum this human tragedy began its unfolding in an equity court.

Yet there is one who knows!

Mrs. Ansley, the mother, who steadily affirms that the baby was born in honorable wedlock and that F. S. Ansley is the legitimate father, knows whether or not the little pink and white bundle of humanity marked exhibit “B” is really her own child and the offspring of the man who denies its birth.

The archives of history have been delved into in vain to find parallel to this almost uncanny litigation. Attorneys have, searched old English law in an effort to find some tangible point upon which to base a defense. The scandal of the House of Stuart in which Charles I declared to be the illegitimate child of James II — a scandal which shook an empire to its foundation — has been recalled in a vain attempt to establish the identity of father and child. Even the case of Napolean Bonaparte who, upon the testimony of his mother that he was another and older son in order to secure his admission into the military academy, and the story of Pudddin’ Head Wilson, whose thumb marks revealed the true birth of an illegitimate child, have been turned to in vain.

The mystery still remains a mystery. Who is the real father, and is F. S. Ansley being made the butt of n cruel conspiracy as he claims? Is the babe of legitimate birth or is it the product of Mrs. Fred West’s “baby farm” used as a “phoney” to secure a favorable decision in Judge McVey’s court of equity? Is Mrs. Ansley really a mother or is she at the base of a plot that has staggered the court and attorneys?


Judge McVey stated this morning that he would order the babe brought into the court room today. If this is done an effort will he made on his part of Ansley’s attorneys to secure the infant as n witness. This, how ever, will be contested on the grounds that a babe under two years is not sufficiently matured as to hear tin facial resemblance to a parent. The defense will base its contention on supreme court decision in the case of State of  Iowa ex rel Harvey in which it was sought to establish the relationship between child and supposed father. The supreme court held that insufficient development would prevent the child’s introduction as a witness. Attorneys for Mrs. Ansley will, it is understood,  object to the child’s being made an exhibit on this decision.


One other way of partially solving the mystery is left open. Judge McVey may decide to order the appointment of three competent physicians for the examination of the plaintiff. Even if this is done and it is shown that Mrs. Ansley became a mother at the time alleged there still lacks evidence tending to show that the child is the legitimate offspring of F. S. Ansley or that it was not taken away from the “baby farm” as it is alleged by the defense.

Because of the Harvey case in which [illegible] is held essential in order to establish identity between father and child, the court may indefinitely withhold his decision until the alleged waif has developed such characteristics as will come within the meaning of the supreme court decision referred to.


Mrs. Fred West, proprietress of the “baby farm” from which Ansley says the alleged dummy child was taken, was this morning charged with conspiracy in a petition filed by the husband. Mrs. West is said to be a co-conspirator with Mrs. Ansley. Her motive is said to be designs on the $5.000 sought by the plaintiff in her suit for separate maintenance. Ansley asks that in view of the supposed conspiracy the case be thrown out of court and that the costs be taxed to his wife.

[“History Fails In A Parallel To Mystery Farm Waif’s Identity – Is Mrs. Ansley Playing a Deep Game Or Is She The Wronged Wife of Ansley – Babe May Not Become Exhibit in This Strange Case,” Des Moines Daily News (Io.), Dec. 21, 1906, p. 1]



FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 5):


Flora Goble positively identifies laudanum when shown 19 bottles containing different fluids resembling the deadly drug. Attorney DeGraff serves notice as to the state's intention of going into the details of the "baby farm" business. Miss Goble is asked illuminating questions which she does not answer and which the court sustains. DeGraff attempts to show disposition of babies in the West home. Noland declares that Mrs. West is being tried for the murder of "Baby Jim," not for any other human beings.

~  ~  ~

Confronted with an array of bottles, each containing a liquid in appearance and odor similar to that of laudanum, and asked to decide which was deadly drug from among them, Miss Flora Goble, on the witness stand in Justice Roe’s court this morning, defeated the purpose of the prosecution and positively identified two bottles which contained the poison. Attorney Noland, for Mrs. West, attempted to show the appearance and odor of laudanum to distinguish from other drug.

Seventeen bottles were introduced into court and the witness was asked to decided on one among the number.

“This bottle, No. 17, is in appearance and smell similar in the drug which was administered in Baby Jim. I would not say positively as to its identity, its color and smell are alike.”

After the bottle “episode” and Attorney Noland had finished hid cross-examination. Attorney DeGraff produced two bottles into court marked separately with the signs “A-1” and “A-2” and with no other marks or indications of the contents.

These the witness positively identified as laudanum.

The bottles were sealed when brought into court and were accompanied by an affidavit that they contained extracts of opium in common use and commonly known as “laudanum.”

Attorney Noland in his cross-examination attempted to get the witness to give incriminating evidence, to which the state objected and which was sustained by the court. Noland asked Miss Goble as to what part she took in the poisoning of the baby. DeGraff objected and the court told Miss Goble to use her own judgment as to whether or not she would answer the question. Miss Goble did not answer.


Evidence that the prosecution believe will get into the district court was [shown?] when Attorney Noland said this morning after the “bottle episode” that he wanted them sealed and kept intact so that when they got to the district court he could prove what was in them. He brought the bottles in a sealed box, the labels on the bottles numbered, and held a list with the corresponding numbers showing what they contained.

Miss Goble's feat of distinguishing the poison, and failing to decide positively as to any in the Noland collection, the county attorney believes to be in his favor.

Mrs. West arrived early  and was one of the first lo enter the court room this morning. She had put aside the brown derby hat she wore yesterday for one of lighter color, a "girlish" creation in red. She seemed not at all discomfited at any time.

Opening the re-direct examination Attorney DeGraff asked the witness if the trips she made to Villisen and other places she testified to on the preceding day were made prior to the birth of "Baby Jim."


"Have you talked with Mrs. Moses since then?"

"Until yesterday I have not seen Mrs. Moses since the day I gave her the second baby when we drove to her house."

"Did you commonly pay attention to the addresses, the place of residence of the people for whom yon nursed?”



 "Was this baby boy called Mm' after you returned from Carlysle?"

"Yes. he was always called "Baby Jim."

"Who was this doctor yon testified was at the West home?”

""Dr. Gray, Dr. Howard G. Gray."

"When this conversation between yourself, Mrs. West and Mrs. Beattie in the room where 'Baby Jim' was lying took place, did you see Miss Beattie leave the room?"

An objection to the question was sustained.

"State all the conversation, all that Mrs. West said in this room at the time the laudanum was administered."

She said, 'let's give him some laudanum and put him out of his misery. That is all I remember o£ her saying at that time."

Attorney DeGraff then asked the witness if any representative of the defense had visited or called upon her since the beginning of the trial, to which the defense objected..

"Yes," answered Miss Goble, "Mrs Ansley and her sister called at the house. They came to the door and rang the bell late at night. I went to the head of the stairs and Mrs. Bromfield went to the door. They said they were Mrs. Ansley and her sister. They would get a police officer and force an entrance if they were no let in. Mrs. Bromfield refused then admittance."

Miss Goble said that she did not know Mrs. Ansley.

An argument arose at this juncture in which the court and the attorneys on both sides all disagreed till the court made an order.

DeGraff continued: "Did you ever tend a boiler or a furnace in the West home. Miss Goble?"


"Did. you ever see anything done while you were so tending this furnace or boiler, did you ever see Mrs. West put anything into the furnace?'


Miss Goble answered yes, when Attorney Noland objected saying that they were not trying Mrs. West for killing any other human being or putting any babies in the furnace.

"The newspapers have tried that part of it," said he, "and it is not relevant to this case at all." Objection sustained.

"Did yon know Fances, the mother of 'Baby Jim?' "

"Yes, I knew her intimately. I learned her name from she herself. Her first name was 'Nora.' "

An agreement readied between DeGraff and Noland at this point concluded bringing out any more information as to the mother of the child.

Attorney DeGraff then arose and referring to the question asked if Miss Goble had ever seen Mrs. West put anything into the furnace, said, "I wish to serve notice here that the state reserves the right to bring out in this trial the disposition of the bodies of babies at the West farm. We are not attempting to show that she killed other babies. We only want to show the disposition of certain bodies which might or might not have been dead."

Attorney Noland then took the witness and questioned her as to the description of the bottle from which it is alleged "Baby Jim" was given the dose which ended his unhappy little life. Miss Goble declared she knew the appearance and believed she could distinguish laudanum if she saw it.

Noland then asked  the witness of she attempted to stop Miss Beattie from administering the dose to the baby to which DeGraff objected and which the court ruled Miss Goble might use her own discretion.

Attorney DeGraff held that an answer to this question would incriminate the witness and the court sustained the objection.


Hundreds again packed Judge Noe's court room upon the resumption of the West murder trial. Miss Goble was again on the stand. Her testimony Friday was the feature of the day.

“Were you ever present when Mrs. West, Miss Ana Beattie and ‘Baby Jim’ were together?"


"When was this?"

“It was in the first week of October and we were upstairs in a room right off the maternity ward. Mrs. West’s daughter Gretchen occupied this room.

“What was said by Mrs. West while you were there in that room?”

“Baby Jim was suffering. His eyes were matterated and he was in awful shape. Mrs. West said, “Let’s give him some laudanum and put him out of his misery. Then she looked right at me. I shook my head and said, ‘Not me.’ At this Miss Beattie, who was standing near, went into the maternity room and brought out a bottle containing laudanum. She had a spoon in her hand and counted out ten [?] drops of the liquid, when Mrs. West said, “that is enough.” Miss Beattie then poured the laudanum down ‘Baby Jim’s’ throat.”

What did you do then?”

“I went out of the room. The telephone rang down stairs and I answered it. I called Mrs. West to the ‘phone and went back into the room.”

“What did you see there?”

“I saw Anna Beattie standing over ‘Baby Jim’ holding the spoon in his mouth. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was repeating the dose.”

“How far were you from the baby when the laudanum was given him?”

“About three feet.”

“How do you know it was laudanum?”

“I saw the label on the bottle. I had seen the bottle previous to this  in the maternity room. It was kept in a drawer there.”

“Did Miss Beattie at the time she counted the drops into the spoon, count out loud?”

“Yes, when she got to ten, Mrs. West said that was enough.”

“When did you next see Mrs. West?”

“Just as she came out of the room when I called her to the telephone.”

“What did you do after Miss Beattie told you she was repeating the door?”

“I left the room. I did not go back into it again until after the baby was dead.”

“At what time did this occur?”

“About a half hour breakfast I should say shortly before nine o’clock – just what ‘Baby Jim’ died I do not know. I saw him again about an hour after he died, to the best of my recollection.

“When did you next see Mrs. Moses after this?”

“That afternoon at her home on Seventh street, 927 I think the number was. Mrs. West, Mrs. Van Meter and I drove over in Mrs. West’s buggy. I was on the front seat with the second baby in my arms with Mrs. West who drove Mrs. Van Meter sat in the back seat. Mrs. Moses came out of her house and took the baby from me. We were there just a moment. Mrs. Moses took the baby back into the house with her.”

“When Mrs. West said, ‘Let’s give him some laudanum’ and looked at you and what did you say?”

“I said, ‘Not me.’ By that I meant that I would not give the baby any laudanum.”

At this point Attorney DeGraff brought about the most dramatic point reached at any time during the hearing. He asked the witness if she saw the person in the room who suggested the laudanum.

“I do,” answered the witness.

“Point her out,” said DeGraff.

Leaning forward in her chair and gazing straight into Mrs. West’s eyes, Flora Goble stretched her arm full length and pointed an accusing finger at Mrs. West, saying. ‘That is her.’”

The defense took the witness for cross-examination.

Attorney Newburn opened the examination. He attempted to show by the girl’s history her incompetency as a witness.

After a few preliminary questions, Harry Noland took the witness and for two hours taxed the girl’s memory with every possible question as to dates, places and occurences in her life from the time she began to be able to walk down to the present day.

Attorney DeGraff and Robert Brennan objected several times on the grounds of irrelevancy and immateriality. The judge overruled the objections.

Noland went over all the ground that DeGraff had previously covered and into minor details which proved to be little or no consequence. His efforts to tangle her were to no avail.

Miss Goble hesitated and would appear to be thinking hard to remember little inconsequential happenings of her daily life, when Noland quick, “answer the question, yes or no!” would break the stillness.

Miss Goble never winched but took her time. Then when the answer came to her she would say it in a low mild tone.

Attorney Noland made a strong effort to show that Miss Goble was discharged from the West “baby farm” because Mrs. West believed her guilty of having taught the daughter Gretchen evil habits.

These things all Miss Goble denied. She testified that Mrs. West had kissed her goodbye and that she cried on leaving her home.

[“Nurse Goble Identifies Poison Which She Says Killed Infant ‘Baby Jim’ - Detects, by Sense of Smell, Laudanum, Drug in Alleged Use at West "Baby Farm." - State Secures Right To Go Into Baby Farm Facts - Defense Seeks to Incriminate Witness, But is Cleverly Side Stepped -- Nurse on Stand During Day.” The Des Moines Daily News (Io.), Feb. 9, 1907, p. 1]



FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 5): Charges of murder against Mrs. Fred West, owner of the famous baby farm, and Miss Anna Beattie her nurse, have been dropped by County Attorney DeGraff, and the case closed.

This action was the inability of the attorney to get enough evidence against either women for conviction, in the face of the disagreement of the jury in the trial of Mrs. Fred West.

Mrs. West is living at her home on Thirty-fifth street, but has given up the baby farm.

[“Charges Against Mrs. Fred West Dropped – Sensational Baby Farm Case Comes to Close.” The Des Moines Daily News (Io.), Jan. 3, 1908, p. 3]


Mrs. Fred West’s first name is revealed in the following publication: John Patrick Zeller, “Salvation for the Capital City,” Neighborhood Development City of Des Moines, May 18, 2010









For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.


For more cases, see: Paternity Fraud Rackets


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